The Ontario Bar Association is mourning the loss of Heather McArthur, the director of continuing legal education credited for helping the association develop a suite of top-notch CLE programs.
“She was the heart and soul of CLE at the OBA throughout all these years,” says Mississauga lawyer Peter Wilson, who worked closely with McArthur as an active contributor to the OBA’s CLE programming, at one time acting as chairman of the association’s committee on that file.
“She made us better than we were. She really did. She made sure that the programs that were delivered and the performance by the speakers, content of those programs, how they were presented, the quality of the brochures, how they were explained . . . that was Heather. The lawyers didn’t sit around editing that stuff. She’s the one who took the time.”
McArthur, who was 58, died following a battle with cancer.
She arrived at the OBA in February 1990, and over the years acted as director of CLE, director of technology, and acting executive director. Before arriving at the OBA, she worked at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where she is credited with the installation of the Henry Moore Collection.
Wilson was introduced to McArthur in the early 1990s, when he got involved in continuing legal education at the OBA. He recalls being very impressed by McArthur at the time, and adds that, “I’ve been impressed by her ever since.”
Says Wilson, “She was an extremely engaged, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable CLE specialist, and was a tremendous help for me. I leaned on her greatly to know the ins and outs, and the ropes, if you will, in terms of developing a CLE program.”
He considered McArthur “a tower of strength in CLE.”
McArthur’s work ethic stood out, says Wilson, as she often worked long days out of passion for the job she was doing. He adds that she was a stickler for details with all of the OBA’s CLE offerings.
“She read everything,” he says. “She read all the brochure copy, she read all the program notes, she read the descriptions. And she edited them fiercely, to make sure they said what they should say.”
He adds that McArthur always kept her cool on the job, even though “lawyers can sometimes be difficult to work with - I don’t think I’m speaking out of school saying that. You know, on occasion, we have exaggerated egos.”
Says Wilson, “No matter what crisis or problem that might arise, she was always the centre for calm and reason. And that affected her staff; her staff approached it the way she approached it.”
He notes that the chairpersons of the OBA’s various sections are always quick to praise staff for their efforts at the OBA’s annual Institute Conference. “That starts with Heather, because she was their guiding light - the one who they looked up to.”
OBA past president Erica James credits McArthur for pulling the association together.
“She was one of the people who really made the association such a family of hard workers,” she says. “She was one of the tremendous stars that we have there. But she did stand out because she pulled everyone together and she was calm in the face of crisis.
“She was thoughtful. In my case, she would call me up before out-of-town meetings and would say, ‘Do you need a ride out there?’ She went above and beyond with that kind of personal caring - a part of what makes, I think, the OBA such a family for all of those who have been so fortunate to have been involved with the bar association on a long-term and intimate basis.”
McArthur also spearheaded the association’s efforts in expanding its use of technology, says Wilson.
“She realized how important technology was to delivering services to members,” he says. “She really took the lead at the OBA at organizing the OBA to deliver its services, and most particularly the CLE, on the web . . . I think she realized early on that it was important, and she drove it.”
McArthur leaves behind her spouse Paul Truster; son Colm Oswell; and siblings Barbara and Peter Howatt, Mac McArthur, and Doug McMahon.